I first met my friend more than 17 years ago. Freshman in college. She bounced into my college dorm room on the first day, full of exuberance, impatience, curiosity.
In many ways, she and I were a curiosity to each other. I was raised in a rural, Connecticut town. She came with a streetwise savvy at which I marveled. She couldn’t drive a car or explain how indoor plumbing worked. But she had flair and a sense of people and the grittiness of life.
Living with Jennie brought me so much: Hanging out with guys with aqua green Mohawk hairdos and nipple rings, before nipple rings were in fashion. Proofing her papers for Semiotics class and arguing about whether “isness” and “thenness” were words. Sleeping on the sidewalk at 2 a.m. Waiting on line for U2 tickets. Attending dance concerts that enthralled me and made me wish that I, too, could have been a world-class ballerina.
In our Philosophy of Education class, Professor Archambault always called Jennie, “Ms. Perlmutter; too polite to correct him, she would proceed to shred his logic, or counter his theories with unbelievable insights and logic of her own.
In college, Jennie had a rare combination of real-world wisdom, and childish energy. When she came into a room, you knew it. When she met a guy she liked, her smile stretched the width of campus. When she lost a dance part, she’d match you spoon for spoon over a bucket of Big Alice’s ice cream.
After college, we grew apart: Jennie went home to New York, a world she knew and loved. Emboldened by people like Jennie, I went to Africa and other far-away places, looking for a world I could love. We both went to grad school, we both moved out West, we spoke occasionally, saw each other occasionally, but mostly drifted apart.
The sadness and frustration I feel at her inexplicable loss, are only compounded by regret; Losing her without telling her, how she became a part of me, how she is woven, like bright, colorful threads, into my own tapestry. Her exuberance, her savvy, her embrace of the new and artful, all things I cherished and worked to make my own remain pieces of her in me.
So I will tell her, when I see her in faces I meet, I will tell her, when I hear her voice in my ear, and the threads that are hers vibrate most loudly. Thank you, Jennie, for being who you were, and helping make me who I am. I will miss you a lifetime.
I will keep you forever.
Karen Engel (15th February 2001)
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